The Court of Appeal has vindicated a local publication that was sued for defamation stemming from a 2018 news report on a court matter.
On Wednesday, July 26, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by online publication iWitness News against which Adrian Da Silva had prevailed at the magisterial level on two counts of defamation.
Justice of Appeal Mario Michel, handed down the ruling during a virtual sitting.
In 2018, journalist Kenton Chance and his media outlet, iWitness News were slapped with two claims of defamation filed by Dasilva, an Edinboro resident.
The defamation suit stemmed from a criminal matter heard at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court in which Dasilva had alleged that his then-girlfriend, Sherika Chandler had wounded him.
After hearing the evidence during the civil trial at the Calliaqua Magistrate’s court on April 28, 2021, magistrate Zoila Ellis-Browne held that Chance had defamed DaSilva.
The magistrate awarded damages of $7,500 on each of the two claims.
Chance and his lawyer, Jomo Thomas, appealed the decision of the magistrate on five grounds.
These grounds were:
- that the magistrate erred when she convened the trial without allowing the defendant to obtain the criminal trial transcript out of which the news story emerged
- the magistrate erred when she denied the defendant’s request to summon then magistrate, Rickie Burnett, as a witness to testify as to the truth of the statement made in the alleged defamatory article printed by iWitness News.
- the magistrate failed to acquaint herself or refused to refresh her memory or disregarded the evidence offered during the trial.
- the magistrate erred in law by not offering a reason or reasons for her finding and decision, and She failed to apply her mind to the defences of truth, qualified privilege, fair comment, and justification.
Justice Michel ruled that if the magistrate had properly and fully addressed her mind to the defence of qualified privilege, she was bound to address the question of whether Chance’s report was fair.
He said the magistrate would inevitably come to the conclusion that Chance’s statements in the article were made on an occasion of qualified privilege when, as a journalist, he was reporting on what he heard said in court by the prosecutor, and, or the defendant in a criminal case before the then senior magistrate.
The judge added that the evidence is uncontroverted that Chance’s article was not actuated or motivated by malice. As a result, the onus of proof would be on Dasilva who never even alleged that the article was tainted by malice.
Chance’s appeal was subsequently allowed on the fifth ground where the magistrate failed to address her mind to the defence of qualified privilege.
Due to this, the decision to award damages in cost to Dasilva was set aside.
The court dismissed the other four grounds of the appeal.
During the course of the trial, Dasilva and his ex-girlfriend Sherika Chandler, gave evidence to support his defamation claims, while Chance and a fellow journalist Ashford Peters, who was also present at court, gave evidence to the contrary.
Michel said that in her 28th April 2021 judgment, magistrate Browne clearly intimated, though without expressly saying it, that she accepted the evidence of Dasilva and his witness.
As such, following the review of the evidence, the magistrate held that Dasilva had established his claim and was entitled to damages.
When SEARCHLIGHT spoke to defence attorney Jomo Thomas after the Court of Appeal’s judgement, Thomas highlighted to SEARCHLIGHT a comment he had made that the Court of Appeal’s decision was a good day for freedom of the press in St Vincent and the Grenadines Thomas said that when a journalist goes to a court or official institutions to report, they have a certain amount of privilege, and a journalist needs to feel confident that he or she can report without facing a defamation suit.